“There is this huge conflict between what we have to do in a democracy in the midst of a pandemic. You can’t have an order to stay at home, but then tell millions of people to line up and gather around the state, “said Racine mayor Cory Mason. “Having an election in the middle of a stay at home order makes no sense. It should not be so. “
While Wisconsin Democrats called for postponement of the elections, highlighting health concerns and the inability to staff polling stations, Evers cited his limited authority to impose a delay against Republican resistance in the Legislative Assembly.
Evers advocated that residents vote by mail and called on lawmakers to relax polling day requirements to allow more flexibility on when ballots could be cast and counted.
But in interviews with POLITICO, more than a dozen Democratic state officials expressed frustration that Evers did not act sooner. They argue that he did not use the full range of his powers, such as calling a special legislative session or announcing an election postponement and forcing someone to stop it. This is essentially what Ohio Governor Mike DeWine did last month, even in the face of an unfavorable court ruling.
Mason, a Democrat who served in the Wisconsin State Legislative Assembly for 11 years, described local officials as “exasperated” about the election being held in the midst of the pandemic. Milwaukee’s mayor Tom Barrett urged people not to vote on election day to vote for him – but to do so by mail in advance.
Polling stations across the state are already down by at least 7,000 polling officers. Only a fraction of the polling stations are expected to be opened in Milwaukee, an area that serves large African-American and minority populations.
But the office in Evers said the governor was unlikely to change course.
“Our democracy is essential, it must continue. Keeping people safe is the governor’s top priority, but we want people to participate in this election. We want as many people as possible to vote at home, “spokeswoman for Evers Melissa Baldauff told POLITICO. “We hope the Legislative Assembly will work with the governor to extend the deadline for [ballots] to count and receive. “
She rejected the possibility that the governor would attempt to suspend the elections as DeWine did. “This is not going to happen,” said Baldauff. “He doesn’t want to do it and he doesn’t have the power to do it either. “
The governor’s office argued that there is no specific future date for the health crisis to subside. Officials also said a delay would endanger hundreds of non-partisan ballot positions – including the mayor of Milwaukee – which, by law, would be vacant if the election were not held. Tuesday. This scenario, said the governor’s office, would create even more chaos in the midst of a public health emergency. But critics say it is a gray area that Evers could have exploited through the legislature or the courts to find a temporary solution until the health crisis subsides.
Assembly minority leader Gordon Hintz agreed that the governor could not act unilaterally. But Hintz also said that holding the elections on Tuesday would put the health of those at risk and expose the state to further prosecution.
It is “a futile exercise. This seems to be the path we are currently following, ”said Hintz. “Every day people realize how serious it is. We already have major problems with the ability of citizens to vote – the postal ballots requested two weeks ago have not been received.
“It is a very bad idea to pursue this. “
While Evers has urged residents to vote by mail, complaints have been pouring in from across the state that they have not received mail-in ballots. Evers’ decision to call on the National Guard to assist with election day raises his own concerns, questions about how to speed up training over fears that a military presence would divert hordes of potential voters.
“We have three branches of government to provide checks and balances, and questions about our elections are generally based on the fact that all three play a role. If I could have changed the election by myself, I would have done so, but I cannot do so without violating state law. ” Evers wrote on Wednesday in a tweet. “I have asked Parliament to do its part to ensure fair and secure elections and I hope we can get clarification as soon as possible. The bottom line is that we have to keep people safe and we have to make sure that everyone who wants to vote has a voice. “
“The three branches of government have done nothing,” said Mason. “The governor refused to call an extraordinary session. The legislature has not called a special session, “and a federal judge who heard a case on Wednesday appeared to suggest that he would not intervene, he said. “No one intervened. “
Evers on Friday called for postal ballots to be sent to all residents of Wisconsin, a proposal rejected by the Republican-majority assembly. But the Democrats expressed frustration that Evers did not insist on the issue by ordering a special session. Baldauff said that the powers of Evers only extend so far; The Republicans had already indicated that they would not move and stressed a previous extraordinary session during which they made back and forth without taking measures.
But critics say forcing the issue again would spur Republicans to act. They also complain that the Evers office did not intervene in an ongoing trial until the 11th hour – and even in this case, it proposed an intermediate solution rather than side with the mayors and groups progressive who have filed lawsuits asking for the postponement of the elections or the extension of the vote.
“It was a cataclysmic failure,” said a Wisconsin-based Democrat strategist who supported the campaign in Evers in 2018. “It was disappointment after disappointment. I don’t think he showed leadership or good judgment during this crisis. “
Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said he urged Evers earlier this month to consider alternatives. In addition to public health concerns, said Genrich, the electoral system could not withstand the pressure of holding an election in the midst of a pandemic which caused a delay in the processing of ballots and the setting deviation of poll workers.
“I had a conversation with him several weeks ago, I shared my frustrations with him. I didn’t want to file a complaint, but I said it was my intention if things were not resolved, “said Genrich. “I was very frank with him, his staff and the legislators on how strongly we think how difficult it would be and how ill-advised it would be to go ahead with an election. But unfortunately, we didn’t do anything. “
The Wisconsin Democratic Party broke with the governor on Wednesday and called for a postponement of Tuesday’s elections. In an interview, however, the chairman of the Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, defended Evers.
“The governor oversees the entire response to coronaviruses in Wisconsin,” said Wikler, “and some of that does everything he can to secure the elections under current law while urging legislators to change the law. “